Fort McHenry Federal Channel Now Fully Open Near Key Bridge

photo courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-

As part of the Unified Command response to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving today restored the Fort McHenry Federal Channel to its original operational dimensions of 700 feet wide and 50 feet deep for commercial maritime transit through the Port of Baltimore.

Since March 26, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and Diving worked to clear Key Bridge wreckage and move the M/V Dali from the Federal Channel. Following the removal of wreckage at the 50-foot mud-line, the Unified Command performed a survey of the Federal Channel June 10, certifying the riverbed as safe for transit. Surveying and removal of steel at and below the 50-foot mud-line will continue to ensure future dredging operations are not impacted.

The Unified Command safely moved the M/V Dali on May 20 and widened the Limited Access Channel to 400 feet May 21, permitting all pre-collapse, deep-draft commercial vessels to transit through the Port of Baltimore. Now, the fully operational channel enables the flexibility to regain two-way traffic and cancel the additional safety requirements that were implemented because of the reduced channel width.

“We are proud of the unified efforts that fully reopened the Federal Channel to port operations,” said Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, commanding general of USACE. “The partnerships that endured through this response made this pivotal mission successful.”

Fully restoring the Federal Channel to its original width and depth involved the removal of about 50,000 tons of bridge wreckage from the Patapsco River. At its highest point, the Unified Command, consisting of six agencies, led the response efforts among about 56 federal, state, and local agencies, represented by 1,587 individual responders. Additionally, about 500 specialists from around the world operated a fleet of 18 barges, 22 tugboats, 13 floating cranes, 10 excavators, and four survey boats. Subject matter experts from all over the U.S. also provided essential technical knowledge to the Unified Command.

“We’ve cleared the Fort McHenry Federal Channel for safe transit. USACE will maintain this critical waterway as we have for the last 107 years,” said Col. Estee Pinchasin, Baltimore District commander. “I cannot overstate how proud I am of our team. It was incredible seeing so many people from different parts of our government, from around our country and all over the world, come together in the Unified Command and accomplish so much in this amount of time.”

The wreckage will continue to be transported to Sparrows Point for follow-on processing. Follow-on work in the channel from this point on is part of routine maintenance, ensuring future dredging operations will not be impacted.

“Although the overarching goal to restore full operational capacity to the Federal Channel was successful, each day, we thought of those who lost their lives, their families, and the workers impacted by this tragic event,” said Pinchasin. “Not a day went by that we didn’t think about all of them, and that kept us going.”

Other significant Unified Command milestones:

• March 30: Removal of bridge wreckage commences

• April 2: The first of three Temporary Alternate Channels opens, allowing shallow-draft vessels to transit through the Port of Baltimore

• April 7: The removal of containers from M/V Dali began

• April 25: The opening of Limited Access Channel to a width of 300 feet and depth of 35 feet

• May 9: Recreational vessels permitted to transit through Key Bridge Response Safety Zone

• May 13: Controlled demolition of Section 4, which had pinned the M/V Dali under a 10-million-pound segment of Key Bridge wreckage

• May 20: M/V Dali refloated and moved, Federal Channel cleared to a width of 400 feet and depth of 50 feet

• June 4: The last major piece of steel truss was removed from Federal Channel

The Unified Command achieved the operational priorities that included ensuring the safety of the public and first responders, accountability of missing persons, protecting the environment, incident stabilization, safely restoring transportation infrastructure and commerce, and supporting the investigation.

The Key Bridge Response 2024 Unified Command included the following:

• U.S. Coast Guard

• U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

• Maryland Department of the Environment

• Maryland Transportation Authority

• Witt O’Brien’s representing Synergy Marine

• Maryland State Police


B.J. Joseph

Benjamin Joesph has covered news in Eastern Baltimore County since 2006. He started as a reporter with the original East County Times in 2006. He started East Baltco News and later in 2022.